Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the National Student Poet Reading

September 18, 2014

MRS. OBAMA: Good morning, you guys. Please, rest. (Laughter.) Welcome to the White House. Yes! Let's stand back, take it in. (Laughter.) This is for you. Look around, we're in the Blue Room. It's good. You guys are winners, champs.

I want to start by thanking everyone from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences for everything that all of these folks are doing to lift up young people like these and a program like this one. We're so proud of you guys. I especially want to recognize Olivia -- right there. (Applause.) Her happy dance. You've done such a tremendous job in leading this program and launching it three years ago. It's good, and we're going to make it bigger and bigger and bigger. You've done such a terrific job. We're so proud of you and proud of what you're doing for young people and for the arts. So thank you so much.

And of course, Richard Blanco, our friend who is here. And carrying on -- we're going to keep pulling you in. (Laughter.) So thank you for being here and thank you for your work.

But most of all, it's my honor to introduce the third class of National Student Poets. We have Weston Clark, from Zionsville, Indiana. (Applause.) No, no, I'm just giving you your time. I'm going to give you your moment. (Laughter.) They're listening to instructions. I'm going to get you guys loosened up and -- realize that there's -- silliness abounds in the White House, so you can relax. Madeleine LeCesne from New Orleans, Louisiana. (Applause.) Ashley Gong from Sandy Hook, Connecticut. (Applause.) Cameron Messinides from Camden, South Carolina. (Applause.) And Julia Falkner, from Louisville, Colorado. (Applause.) Yay. (Laughter.) And their parents -- you guys, stand up. Families. (Applause.) You should be so proud. Aren't you proud? This is pretty cool. You could never say they never did anything for you. (Laughter.) They got you to the White House.

Now, we started this program because we wanted to nurture the passion and creativity of our young people. And we wanted to help them engage with their communities, and we wanted to do our part to share the gifts and wonders that poetry offers with a new generation.

As my favorite poet, Maya Angelou, once said, nothing is so frightening as writing, but nothing so satisfies me. So what these young people are doing doesn't just take talent, it doesn't just take hard work, it actually takes a lot of courage. It takes courage to open your soul to the whole world. It takes courage to think hard and feel deeply, and then turn those thoughts and feelings into something that you're willing to share with others. And that's exactly what these young people are doing every day with their works, which is why it's just so phenomenal.

Young people at this age tend to close down, shut down. And through your words, you're just sort of letting it all go. In one of her poems, Julia says, she used to write what she called "passive aggressive prose poems" -- (laughter) -- because, as she says -- she said, "I did not know how to scream in a three-dimensional world." Really powerful.

So today, we celebrate not just the wonderful, finished poems that you will hear in a moment from these gifted young people, but we're also here to celebrate the journey that these young people took to get where they are today -– the endless drafts, the late-night struggles with writer's block, and all those moments, I'm sure, of fear and doubt.

And make no mistake about it, the process for these young people isn't just about how they create great works of poetry. It's what we have said time and time again -- it's the key to success, period, in school and in life. And that's why it's so critical that every child in this country has access to the arts in schools. We can't say it enough. We know this is the right thing to do for our kids. We know it's a must. It's as essential as what they eat, what they drink, what they breathe in. Our kids deserve and need this.

Because whether it's poetry or band or drama or painting, access to the arts gives kids a reason to get out of bed, and a reason to get up and go to school, and some of the other stuff that sometimes isn't so fun. (Laughter.) It gives them that chance for self-expression, and gives them the skills and the experiences they'll need to realize their boundless potential, and to reach higher, and to write their own story in the years ahead.

And so I am thrilled to have the chance to showcase that potential and celebrate those stories. This is something that we talked about after last year's event. I said, let's hear from them. Let's take it to the next level. So you guys represent the next level. (Laughter.) Because we want to really hear your voices, and give you the opportunity to stand in the White House and to recite your words.

So I really do want you guys to be relaxed about this. I know that's hard to say. (Laughter.) But you know, treat this as a gift. There's no pressure. Forget those guys back there. (Laughter.) It's us; we are all family. We've all read your stuff and it's amazing. That's why you're here. The President actually read it, too; he loves poetry. He could not be here, but he is amazed by what you do.

So this is really a gift. This is fun. So relax. There's no right or wrong. This is the brave part of it -- actually sharing your stuff with the world. And forget that you're in the Blue Room of the White House. (Laughter.) The historic significance, the -- I don't want that to add any pressure to you at all.

But we're very excited to hear from you. And, Weston, you're first. That's why he was coming to the -- okay, we'll all sit and join you. You're up first. Do your thing, guy. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the National Student Poet Reading Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320092

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